It took me nearly 48 hours to drive the last 150 miles to LA. In part, I was exhausted, for the experience in Death Valley had been so raw and personal. More palpably- as it had on that first morning in the desert looking for the spot where I would create my vision quest- it once again felt as though an invisible force was wisely, benevolently slowing me down.
Driving South from Death Valley through the black desert night I was excited by the mystery of where I would be landing, but the excitement didn’t last long. Baker, California, population 735, was merely a pit stop on the Interstate that led to Vegas. It proudly displayed “The World’s Largest Thermometer,” stretching up like a prize Redwood, I am guessing some 150’. It also displayed a service road studded with MacDonald’s, Taco Bell and Carl’s Junior drive-throughs. Driving up and down that road, I discovered there were two hotels in town and one them was closed. I can’t remember the name of the one I stayed in but it had that quintessential, run-down feel. I remember the pool didn’t have water in it and it was full of cracks; I remember the rooms looming aside sickly trees in a horse-shoe shape; I remember the receptionist in the brightly-lit office was pregnant and I remember sending Reiki to her unborn child and praying, “What a wild place you have chosen to incarnate into. Many blessings to you.” And, I remember that first moment of shock when I opened the hotel room door.
Simply put, the room was lousy, and it felt void and hollow of anything resembling goodness. There were cracked tiles on the floor; a large, white wooden letter “W” on the wall, which was the first letter of the hotel’s name I can’t remember; and a pathetic, sagging ‘king-sized’ bed made of two single beds pressed together and a large thin, undulating mattress over the top of it all. The dark walnut, wood-grained Formica on the pressboard furniture was peeling at every corner, and as I lay on the bed for a moment, I looked up at the ceiling. As I made my initial descent, I thought maybe I should leave; but within seconds I exhaled deeply, allowing an audible sigh of relief to fill the white-walled room. I was relieved to have found one thing in the room I could honestly love and appreciate; the ceiling was made of 1 x 6 tongue-and-groove boards. And although they, too, were painted white, they were in excellent health, not unlike a pristine picket fence in a Norman Rockwell painting. I remember thinking, “Ok. This place sucks, but at least those boards are cool.”
I knew I wanted to continue writing about the vision quest at some point, but I was out of paper. I walked across the service road and bought a spiral, blue-lined notebook in a general store. I also thought, ‘I should eat,’ so I checked out the two non-chain candidates nearby- a Greek place, serving Greek and everything but Asian and Mexican foods, and a Mexican place next door. I wasn’t terribly hungry, but I settled on Mexican take-out and headed back to the hotel. Awkwardly adapting to my hollow home for the night, I prayed over my food and raced through the meal ashamedly. Sitting cross-legged on the lumpy bed I was eating just to eat, but I couldn’t stop. I had gone unconscious in feeling depressed about the hotel and my decision to stay there. Then, to no surprise, I became nauseous. Upon completing dinner and dropping the Styrofoam container in the plastic trash bag by the door, I grabbed my new notebook and wrote for twenty minutes.
It felt good, pen in hand, to let it rip, to let go into a stream of consciousness, to let myself unwind in that way. It had been a long time sine I’d done that; just not cared what came out. It also felt good to have released some pent-up energy, but unfortunately after I was done, I didn’t let myself savor the experience. Which is to say, directly after finishing, I did what I have often done in hotel rooms over the last 5-10 years: I watched television- a lot of television.
Earlier in the evening, I had a pre-arrival fantasy that I would ‘stay strong and connected’ with my experience in Death Valley, and, once inside my hotel room, I would meditate, pray, or simply sleep. I can only admit that I have had bouts of raging vulnerability to the distraction of a television. It is why I don’t own one now, though I am still battling the stranglehold my iPhone’s “Sportacular” app has on my ability to be balanced in the present moment, and consistently face what’s really happening in my life at a deeper level.
So it was, that on this first night after the vision quest, I was startled and upset at how quickly I disconnected from the depth of my experience on the vision quest. Like an unconscious child rebelling against the world, I didn’t want to be present. I didn’t want to take the ‘best’ care of myself. I didn’t want to serve my soul any more. I had internal excuses and rationales- “I need a break,” “I deserve a little entertainment,” “I need to decompress.” So, as I often have in life, when I had an opportunity to stay the course and dive even deeper into the rich terrain of savoring a powerful awakening and being truly present, I turned my outer attention to the TV. In so doing, I turned my inner attention to judging myself harshly for it, effectively dissolving my ability to see the experience as ‘entertaining.’
As often is the case, the TV was located at the foot of the bed and I propped myself against the wafer-thin pillows and the rickety headboard to sponge up the ‘outside’ world. In between live news reports about the revolution in Egypt, I caught snippets of campy teen 80s movies and a full episode of a show I’d had the privilege to work four seasons on, “Six Feet Under.” I delighted in seeing how it was still such a powerful display of genius writing and acting; and the mood of familial tension and the subtlety of awakening to one’s own truths and desires were absolutely captivating. In hindsight, I can see how much easier it was to ‘watch’ that awakening, than to stay committed to my own.
Finally, close to 11 pm, I turned the TV off and meditated. I sat crossed-legged in the pit of the bed closest to the night table, facing the turned-off TV. I held the small wooden cross in one hand and the dream-catcher in the other. After holding the remote for the last few hours, my spirited tchatchkes felt foreign and briefly unfamiliar. I prayed for the strength to forgive myself for watching so much TV. I prayed to accept the choices I made as the choices I made, neither bad nor good; and I prayed I wouldn’t turn the TV back on.
But, I did; this time, for only another 2 minutes. Then, annoyed and outright disgusted with myself, I shut it off. I quickly gave thanks for my ability to do so, and at 12:30 am, turned out the light and went to sleep.
I slept in ‘til 9 am and considered getting cleaned up, but after looking inside the dark, tiny shower stall, I let that idea go and packed myself out. I got in my car and I drove ¼ mile down the service road. I could see the Interstate buzzing in the bright morning light to my left. It throbbed like a gigantic aorta- 75 miles-per-hour-plus of truckers and rvs and cars and, in that moment, for me, overwhelm. I pulled over to the side of the road, just before committing to the long lonely on-ramp. As I pulled to a stop in a large gravel parking lot, I was feeling completely spacey. I was painfully aware that I was not present. I was not in my power. I was awash in a brain fog of shame and guilt and I was furious about it.
I rustled through my small black backpack lying on the passenger seat and grabbed the cross and dream catcher. I got out of the car and began circling the vehicle, chanting, sounding, dancing, anything I could do to get into my body and out of my head. I had to wake my self up and get “here.” I was furious for watching so much TV the night before and I was furious for not forgiving myself. All that convoluted, unexpressed angst and rage had created a powerful vortex of victim hood in me; one I have been relentlessly addicted to most of my life. Most of the world wouldn’t know the depths of it, for I have kept that battle under wraps. I have hidden the intensity of how deeply I can spiral into the apparently ‘comforting’ pain of shame and guilt, a powerful distortion of my true power as a man and a being.
Fortunately, amidst the dust and gravel, the glaring sun off the windshield and the cars and trucks heading onto the Interstate 30 feet away, the prayers and chants worked their magic. In those moments, moving and shaking my body jerkily around the car praying and giving thanks to all the spirits watching over me, I was finally ‘channeling’ that fury into my most authentic power. I could feel the words coming from deep in my gut, and from someplace deeper than my mind can know; it was the true me, satisfied and freed. Within 10 minutes and numerous laps around the car, I had shifted the energy enough to get back in the car and back on the road.
Immediately buoyed by this shift, I wondered how quickly I might make it to LA. In such a perfect display of the spirit’s truth overcoming the desires of the ego, I lasted only 40 miles. I simply couldn’t handle the Interstate anymore than that. I’d already pulled over twice for long rests, and it was shocking how exhausted I felt and how challenging it was to maintain my focus and concentration. I also began to hear a very faint voice in me that wanted me to take better care of myself. I heard it wanting a comfortable hotel room; a hot bath and a breakthrough with the television set I knew would be waiting there. So, I exited at Barstow and within 200 yards I landed in a reception hall parking lot. I shut off the car and sat there in the shade, just breathing. For fifteen minutes I sat there with my eyes closed, just mindfully watching the air come in and watching the air go out. I felt as though I was taking a pause on my way through the proverbial birth canal heading home. Sitting in the driver’s seat, breathing with that image of birth, I began to feel more at home in my power, as if to say, “I don’t think I am ready to be born and there’s really no rush.”
In that spacious and wonder-filled place, I pulled out my phone and called my wife. We spoke for 45 minutes, and all the while I was staring at an inviting Marriott Hotel across the six-lane road. It was only 12 noon and when I mentioned this at one point in our conversation, she was right there with me. She said, “It sounds like you need another day, at least. I can feel it. Take the time now. It feels like you really need to keep de-compressing.” After we hung up the phone I called the hotel, booked a room, and went about exploring.
Five hours later- after praying on a hill overlooking a trash heap on the southern outskirts of town, with locals shooting guns in the background; after grabbing some lemons and raw spinach (to my shock, both organic), new pens and a bag of popcorn at a local market; and after inhaling ½ lb of spinach for lunch- I was lying in heaven. It was a hot bath in the dark bathroom of a quiet, carpeted hotel, and I luxuriated there for 45 minutes. I admit I had watched a little TV, prior to bathing, but it wasn’t on but a half an hour- going back an forth between a Steve McQueen movie and a college basketball game that just wasn’t doing it for me. Drawing the bath as I watched, I knew I really needed to let go. I needed to give myself back to the prayer of every moment of my breath. I needed to come back into the positive power pole of me.
After the bath, I lay on the bed, closed my eyes and turned out the light. Lying there, I breathed in the echoes of Death Valley still pulsing through my body. I breathed in the wild winds of the first few days on the Vision Quest; I breathed in the healing with Riun and the drama with my family; and I breathed in the fullness of myself re-connecting with the Valley and my purpose for going. The fullness of me was so relaxed and centered that I fell asleep, at what couldn’t have been later than 7:30 pm. Awoken by a freight train lumbering along behind the hotel at 4:30 am, I got up and wrote. I let the writing be my first prayer and it was mighty- mighty to allow a new flow of hope, mighty to be in my full enjoyment of me, again, and mighty to have broken through to a place of forgiveness- the present, the now, the ‘here.’
After writing and offering some verbal prayers of thanks cross-legged on the carpet floor, I took a walk up and down hilly streets. I wandered along kicking rocks and welcoming the dawn. I wandered behind the stores of that bleak desert outpost, just following my nose past wood-paneled apartment buildings and low-budget motels. I wandered along watching ravens through the odd stillness in the air, what was the calm before the commercial storm of Super Bowl Sunday. I had no plans to watch the game, no plans to party with friends, and no plans for what I was going to do when I got back to LA.
I checked out just before noon and glided easily back to Los Angeles; everything flowed, I met no palpable resistance and I was deeply grateful for how light traffic was and how much I enjoyed the ride. Upon my arrival home, I remember seeing my wife and just sharing the silence with her as she lay in bed. The mid-day sun coming through the large bedroom window was low in the sky and we sat in silence for many minutes, just taking each other in. I felt changed and I could feel us both appreciating that. It felt good to know that something had shifted, that I’d cleared my psychic field, so to speak, and that by following my intuition to complete that journey, I’d received the reward of a divinely inspiring experience.
It has taken me three months to finish writing about this particular journey, and it is vigorously clear that it is another journey altogether to fully integrate what I’ve learned. In the time since the vision quest, I have had brief flashes reminding me of my life in the womb, my signatorially emotional response to the experience, and how it still echoes regularly through my present life. Since the vision quest, I have become radically aware of how the experience did and didn’t change my life; and since that time in the desert, I have found my life transforming and challenging me in ways I never dreamed possible.
There are so many great and rich ripples of awakening from the vision quest, yet, given what is before me now; it was clearly just the tip of the iceberg. If a possible template of real-life transformation is stepping into and through our deepest fears, it is now time to breathe my way over the coals in an even more committed way.
The wisdom of the desert gave me many things, the great blessing of Ravens in flight among them. And I am blessed, grateful and suddenly inspired to remember that I asked the Universe for a vision and the Universe delivered. Now, it is time to wonder inside a new question: “What vision of life am I willing to quest for now?”
And all I hear is "breathe."